By Russ Ramsey
The comedian Louis C.K. said, “If anyone says that you hurt them, you don’t get to say that you didn’t.”
How strong is your drive to defend yourself when people speak ill of you? For many of us, we’ll go to battle defending any criticisms we believe are undeserved—and often even those we know are deserved. But when someone says we hurt them and we respond by trying to silence them, what exactly are we defending?
A theme that runs throughout David’s psalms is that God Himself vindicates His children (Psalms 26:1, 35:24, 43:1, 54:1). From the time David stepped into the limelight, he had people shouting him down—accusing him, condemning him, doubting him, and even trying to harm him. When this happened, he often responded in prayer, asking the Lord to vindicate him.
Why did he ask for this? We might think David asked the Lord to defend him because David regarded himself as innocent. But today’s passage shows David understood he owned a measure of guilt for the pain of others.
In the strange little story of Shimei, we see something I believe every person seeking wisdom should consider: What if the stinging rebuke of someone who has been wounded by our conduct is something the Lord means for us to hear and endure? What if there is some measure of opposition we need to receive and be humbled by? Even chastened by?
David is on the run from his own son, Absalom, who wants to kill him and take the throne. When one of Saul’s descendants, Shimei, sees David and his men traveling along the road, he follows them on a ridge, rebuking David for all the bloodshed that has come upon the house of Saul. David is vulnerable and Shimei hopes the king will reap the whirlwind of his warring ways.
David’s men offer to squash Shimei like a bug, but David’s response is uncommonly humble. He says, in effect, “What if this man’s pain is exactly what the Lord wants me to hear? Let him curse me. If the Lord told him to do this, I won’t silence him. Maybe the Lord will see this and heal us both.”
The story ends with David and his men stopping to rest, exhausted by their journey, by Absalom’s threats, and by Shimei’s constant rebuke. David knows he has contributed plenty to the pain in his family and nation. There are too many messes to clean up. There is too much blood on his hands to claim innocence. All he can do is rest in the hope that the Lord will show him mercy. And maybe part of that mercy comes by hearing the complaint of a man whose family he has hurt.
I’m not advocating enabling abuse. Neither does today’s text. What it does do is raise the question: Is it possible to feel completely in the right, and not be aware of—or open to—the possibility that, somewhere along the way, our actions might have caused someone real pain?
The humble response is to say, “Lord, give me ears to hear the pain I have caused, even as I ask you to show mercy to the pain I’m in.” If ever there was a sinner’s prayer, this is it.
Written by Russ Ramsey